Bat falcon (photo by Joao Quental via Wikimedia Commons)
On a birding trip in Costa Rica:
There are more members of the Falcon family here in Costa Rica than in North America (*). Though some species are the same I expect to see at least three Life Bird Falconidae while I’m here: the yellow-headed caracara, the laughing falcon, and the bat falcon.
Like other members of the family, bat falcons (Falco rufigularis) capture birds and flying insects in mid air but they also capture bats. This earned them their name even though bats make up only 14% of their diet.
About the size of merlins, bat falcons live in open woodlands and tropical forests from Mexico to Brazil. Because they hunt for bats they’re often seen at dawn and dusk perching high on conspicuous snags and bobbing their heads as they look for prey. Their flight is so fast and direct that they focus on eating the fastest birds: swifts, swallows and hummingbirds (oh my!).
During the breeding season bat falcons are very vocal and sound almost like kestrels. Hear their calls in these videos at the Handbook of Birds of the World.
So in the days ahead I’ll be checking all the bare treetops for a charcoal gray falcon with a dark face, white neck, and strikingly reddish belly, legs and undertail coverts.
Bat falcon in Columbia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
I’ll be extremely lucky if I see one catch a bat.
12 members of Falconidae in Costa Rica: 3 Forest-falcons (barred, slaty-backed, collared), 3 Caracaras (red-throated, crested, yellow-headed), 1 Laughing falcon, 5 Falcos (American kestrel, merlin, aplomado falcon, bat falcon, peregrine).
7 members of Falconidae in North America: 1 Caracara (crested), 6 Falcos (American kestrel, merlin, aplomado falcon, peregrine, prairie falcon, gryfalcon).
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)
Day 2: Tárcoles River birding